With the Christmas shopping rush in full swing, the subject of retail was all the rage at the Canadian Club of Ottawa’s final luncheon for the season, held at the Fairmont Château Laurier on Tuesday.
The century-old social organization held a panel discussion featuring three business leaders with a proven track record for sparking change: Farm Boy co-CEO Jeff York, Mad Radish founder and chief executive David Segal and Lisa Delorme, the co-founder and CEO of Rent frock Repeat Designer Dress Rentals.
All three took to the stage before a crowd of about 200 to discuss the future of retail in all its forms: brick and mortar, online and mobile apps. The room also learned how the companies have distinguished themselves from their competition by keeping up with current trends.
The trio was among the special guests piped into the Adam Room by Gilbert Young from the RCMP Community Pipes and Drums Band. Joining them at the head table was well-known public speaker Catherine Clark, who moderated the panel discussion, along with board members Grant McDonald (KPMG) and Bruce Raganold (Welch), Canada's former chief of protocol, Elizabeth Rody, and Denise Siele, partner at Hill Solutions and president of the Canadian Club of Ottawa.
In welcoming guests, Siele spoke of the organization’s efforts to invite speakers and raise topics that reflect the Canadian Club’s purpose and mission “to promote and provoke healthy discourse on the issues that are shaping our lives as Canadians.” The luncheons commonly deal with issues in the areas of business, arts, academia, culture, government and politics.
If you've ever wondered what to call Farm Boy, try and avoid using the term "grocery store" when its chief executives are within earshot.
“We’re a fresh-food experience,” clarified York before launching into an endearing description of how they do better business with customers.
The company only hires nice people, he insisted. And helpful ones, too.
“It’s OK for them to stop working and to talk to the customer and solve their problem,” said York, who, prior to joining Farm Boy in 2009, helped regional discount chain store Giant Tiger become a roaring national success as its president.
Farm Boy’s other priority is, of course, its food. It doesn’t come in a can or a box full of preservatives, like in the supermarkets, he emphasized. Farm Boy focuses on selling fresh produce and healthy, home-made prepared meal options.
“It’s resonating well,” said York. “We can’t open stores fast enough.”
The Ottawa-based chain, which is particularly popular with Baby Boomers, has grown to 24 locations and is breaking into the Toronto market.
Meanwhile, Segal was already steeped in success from DavidsTea when he launched his two Mad Radish locations in Ottawa this year, at the corner of Metcalfe and Albert streets and in the Glebe.
His quick-service salad restaurant is so environmentally friendly that customers won't find garbage cans in the restaurants – just compost and recycling bins. It’s not enough only to have a good product these days; you also have to be a good company to reach socially responsible millennials.
At Mad Radish, every time a customer places an order through their account, the company donates one serving of fresh vegetables to a low-income individual, through Community Food Centres Canada. For people who rely on food banks, it beats having to line up for Kraft Dinner, frozen hotdogs or Campbell soup cans. It also changes the way companies are able to give back, said Segal.
“The way it worked in the past was, a company gets created, builds itself up, gets infusions of cash, finally makes a profit, donates big novelty cheque, gets nice photograph and handshake,” said Segal. “The next year, they either give that money or they don’t, so the organization that the company was working with can’t depend on that money.”
Rent frock Repeat
In our modern age of economy sharing, whether through Airbnb or Uber, the notion of renting a party dress for a special evening makes economic and environmental sense. Rent frock Repeat got started after Delorme needed a new gown for a wedding but didn’t want to blow a lot of dough on something she’d likely only wear once.
She and her business partner started their online dress-rental business, thereby allowing women to enjoy the benefits of having access to great style without the financial burden and without cluttering up their closets and landfills. She began with about 600 dresses, kept in her basement.
Their focus groups predicated a clientele of fashionistas, said Delorme.
“What we found is, a lot of the consumers don’t know the first thing about fashion. She doesn’t know if the dress is going to look right on her or if it’s right for her body type and her hair colour. She doesn’t know what accessories go with it.”
So, they opened a showroom, in Toronto and in Ottawa's ByWard Market, to give clients an opportunity to try the clothes on, thereby combining online technology with customer engagement.